Starting a Career in Law?
How to Navigate a Legal career Path
Congratulations! You have just completed what feels like thirty years of schooling, and finally got the degree in law you dreamed about for so long.
You’re probably asking yourself: “What now? How do I start my legal career?” You have a number of options and it all depends on a number of factors unique to your own aspirations. First thing’s first: should you join a firm, or would you be better off opening a private practice?
It’s not an easy choice for anyone. One of the greatest struggles you will go through is deciding which area of law in which to focus.
Research Demographics before Locating
Demographics can make or break your new practice. Do some research. Find out what kind of legal entities are in your area, and then find out who manages them and how long they’ve been around. You might realize there’s an opening for exactly the area of law in which you want to specialize right at home.
A lot of us want to be our own boss, but make no mistake: it’s not going to be easy, especially if you’re already bogged down under a mountain of debt or mistakenly open your doors for people in a neighbourhood with unfavourable demographics. For these reasons, be very, very careful before you choose to open your own practice.
Most graduates who continue to tackle the law will end up joining a firm. More than half of those will end up bouncing from one to another in their first five years, making this potentially the most difficult decision you’ll face. Don’t waste your time at a lesser-known firm if you can help it. Find a firm that future employers will know, trust, and respect. If you need to make a move later on, this can reduce the headache. Spend time thinking about which practice area suits you best, because transitioning from one to another can be an impossible task if you haven’t chosen a flexible firm.
The Power of Networking
Sometimes, the choice comes down to who you know and who you don’t. We don’t always walk alone, which brings us to the most important topic of all. Before you even sought your degree, you probably met a few people who were willing to help you out along the way. Don’t forget about them! Do what you can to keep past relationships intact, and look for ways to reach out, help others, and more than that to let them know you’re still around. If you’re in their thoughts, they’ll inevitably open up a world of new opportunity down the road.
Regardless of whether or not you begin your own practice or join up with another firm, build relationships with people you can trust. Volunteer your free time and let people in your communities know you’re out there. You’ll be surprised at what even the most unlikely friends will offer you throughout your career. Some of your best clients will be referred to you by a mutual friend whose relationship you nurtured and maintained since your college days.
Never forget: what goes around comes around. Be kind, be respectful, and be professional. Knowing the right people and strengthening the right relationships can make you more comfortable with the decisions you make throughout your career.
Don’t Forget to Ask for Advice
Most partners will struggle to build a firm in the beginning. Law school taught you a great many things but organizing a business from the ground up is different. Try to attend career style conferences and events with a line-up of speakers who share advice on the exact types of problems you are likely to face: such as delegation of responsibility, billing practices, networking, and even financial planning to help you juggle the debt with the new expenses common to owning a business.
This is an important point and is crucial to your success eventually. It is not that you are asking the wrong questions or don’t have the necessary expertise to succeed; It is that you are not asking the right questions to the right people. You are likely to have mentors from school, but more often we tend to share our thoughts and concerns with people and colleagues who are in the same boat instead of the people who had traversed those waters ten, twenty, even thirty years ago.
Don’t be afraid to approach the people who taught you, because they always have more to offer. Don’t be afraid to approach people who are no longer in the business of building a firm in order to ask them the keys to success in your field of law. They know the answers, and they’re willing to share. You have all the tools you need to succeed. You just need to use them.